Artist Profile: Anthony Guyther

Alluring, collage, 10.5 x 13.5
Butterfly Girl, mixed media paper collage 13.75 x 10.5"

Butterfly Girl, mixed media paper collage 13.75 x 10.5″

                                                                                                                                                  Alluring, collage, 10.5 x 13.5″

The first time I met 94-year-old artist Anthony Guyther, earlier this year, he was sitting in an armchair in his Tisbury living room, surrounded by his work, which covers nearly every square inch of wall space, and is stacked several pieces deep against the baseboards and furniture. He told me that all of it was for sale, and that he was pricing it to move, at a mere $50 per framed collage. “My nephews aren’t much interested in it,” he said. “When I die, they’ll probably cart it all off to the dump, so I may as well sell it now.”

Anthony Guyther at home in Tisbury

Anthony Guyther at home in Tisbury

I was there to interview Mr. Guyther, and I did; however, I spent more time shopping than asking questions, and I left with two fascinating pieces. One, titled “Cockatiels Come Home to Roost,” depicts a nude woman, reclining on a draped armchair, with several outsize cockatiels perched on various parts of her body. The second, “Birdman Snake,” is of a winged nude man, tinted green and sporting a huge upturned bird’s foot on top of his head, surrounded by several snakes, one of which — fangs bared — seems to be heading straight for the man’s genitals.

My husband, intrigued by the two pieces, wanted to see more, and so we returned a week later to the artist’s house. My husband couldn’t decide which pieces he liked best, so he bought eight. “They’ll make great gifts,” he said by way of justification, but we ended up hanging them all in our stairway, becoming, practically overnight, the artist’s biggest collectors.

Mr. Guyther calls his work “symbolist collage — as opposed to surrealist.” His pieces almost always involve a human figure, usually nude or partially draped, to which he adds images of animals, musical instruments, shells, etc. Often the final products are erotic, and he has exhibited and sold work at the Gallery of Erotic Art and the Pleasure Chest in New York, among other venues. Regarding the eroticism of his work, he says, “It’s erotic, not pornographic. Eros is love. Only narrow-minded, stupid people don’t like eroticism.”

Just as often, Mr. Guyther’s works are clever and amusing, playing on words. “Leda Me Not into Temptation,” for example, is an erotic arrangement of several nude figures, one of whom is kissing a swan. “Mona Lizard” is a playful combination of several lizards and the Mona Lisa.

Birth of Venus, collage,  14.5 x 12"

Birth of Venus, collage, 14.5 x 12″

Mr. Guyther has no formal artistic training, but he has made a living by being creative ever since he dropped out of Dartmouth College in 1939 (“I got two scholarships to go there, but I didn’t like it, so I left after a few months and went to New York and got a job”). In his years in New York City, before moving to Martha’s Vineyard in 1984, he worked in layout for Hillman Publications, and later for Condé Nast. He grew “tired of kitchen plans” after three years at Condé Nast, and went freelance, doing photography and montages for a variety of publications, including Theater Arts Magazine. Macy’s blew up some of his collages for interior displays, and Bonwit Teller used his work in their display windows.

When Mr. Guyther’s brother, Wayne, married a Hinckley and moved to the Island, his mother wanted to live near both of her sons, and so she and Mr. Guyther, who had been living together in New York since Mr. Guyther left Dartmouth, relocated here as well. While technically a retiree, Mr. Guyther hasn’t stopped engaging in creative activities. In addition to his collages, he has historically done all his own framing, buying used frames from the thrift shop, mending and painting them, and making his own mats, which he covers in decorative paper. The images that he painstakingly cuts, pastes, and hand-colors come mainly from black and white illustrations in a large collection of old books he acquired decades ago for 25 cents apiece from 8th Avenue used bookstores in Lower Manhattan. He also makes matchboxes appliqued with paper and seashells, which he sells as tourist keepsakes at Citrine in Vineyard Haven.

A little over a year ago, Mr. Guyther suffered some crushed vertebrae from, he says, “pushing my girlfriend’s mother around in a wheelchair; she weighed 165 pounds, and I’m only 125.” He moved to a rehab center in North Falmouth, and at first considered staying there indefinitely. But after two months, he changed his mind. “It was a lot of old people doing nothing,” he says. “I wasn’t creative there, and I have to keep making things. Rest is rust.” So he moved back to the Island, where he continues making his matchboxes and collages, including a little sculptural 3-D collage. He also does crossword puzzles to keep his mind agile, and he walks to the senior center and back every day, to have lunch.

Mr. Guyther welcomes potential buyers to his home to see his work; call him at 508-693-8629 to schedule a visit. The six pieces he donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital can be viewed there. Or you can just come over to my place.

Egguardians, collage 11.5 x 9.5 inches

Egguardians, collage 11.5 x 9.5 inches

Anthony Guyther collages courtesy of the Martha’s VineyardHospital Permanent Art Collection.

Laura D. Roosevelt is a journalist, poet, and photographer, and an active member of the board of The Yard, a dance and performing arts nonprofit in Chilmark. She has two children, and lives with her husband in West Tisbury.

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